It's an important time of year in Dayton as the 70th Tennessee Strawberry Festival continues this weekend. They've had to scramble because a major strawberry supplier isn't taking part this year. The event earns the city a lot of revenue, but this depends a lot on successful crops.
For more than 30 years Tidwell's Farm in Spring City, just a bit north of Dayton, has supplied most of the strawberries for the festival. For this year's celebration the owners are taking a break according to their Facebook page. The post reads in part, "We'll miss seeing you, but after 33 seasons of strawberries, we decided we deserved a break."
This puts the pressure on other local growers like Nathan Lorenzen. Last year's drought didn't do much damage to his crop because he drip irrigates, but this year's heavy spring rains have been a problem.
"I think it's affected our berry size," says Lorenzen. "You typically want a dry season for a berry crop."
They're almost half the normal size, but Lorenzen says they still taste great. He sold out Friday morning in just a couple of hours.
"Yeah. They're like candy," is how Lorenzen describes the taste.
The harvest at Flat Top Mountain Farm came up just a little short, but has some larger berries in the mix.
"The warm winter that we had, we actually came in earlier than we ever have before," says co-owner Diane Hughes. "May 1st is actually about when we can expect to come in."
Hughes and her husband began picking around April 20th.
Scott's Farm from northeast Tennessee is here to help if supplies run low, but people at the festival don't seem to be worried and are enjoying the scrumptious treats.
"Actually, they were delicious," exclaims Vicki Bone who is visiting from Texas. "We had the chocolate covered strawberries on a stick and they were very good."
Danny Pryor has been coming here for many years, making the drive from Decatur in Meigs county.
"The strawberries brought us over here. Me and my wife, we love strawberries, so we knew they were going to be here. The chocolate strawberries," says Pryor. "They're very good."
The main difference between this year's festival and those of year's past is that all of the farmers are selling their fresh berries in the parking lot of the Chamber of Commerce instead of at the court square. Saturday, May 13 is the last day of the festival. Gates open at 9 a.m. and close at dark with a parade at 1 p.m.